What Can Leaders and Churches Do to Respond to Loneliness?

The Loneliness EpidemicIn January 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracy Crouch as the country’s first Minister of Loneliness. At that time, a reported 14 percent of Britain’s population often or always felt lonely. “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” said Prime MInister May. 

The most recent statistics for Canada show that loneliness is a significant and sad reality here as well:

  • More than 1 in 10 people in Canada are often or always lonely
  • Women are more lonely (15%) than men (11%)
  • Young people aged 15-24 are more lonely (23%) than seniors aged 75 and up (14%)
  • Those who live alone are more lonely (24%) than those who live with others (11%).
    (Source: Canadian Social Survey of people in Canada aged 15 and over, August-September 2021)

In his foreword to The Loneliness Epidemic by Susan Mettes (Brazos Press, 2021), Barna Group President David Kinnaman says that research by his team on loneliness in the United States indicates that:

One in three adults in the United States (36%) say they feel lonely almost all the time or sometimes.

 

The proportion of adults who say they could be accurately described as lonely has more than doubled in the span of just over twenty-five years, from 7 percent in 1994 to 12 percent in 2002 and to 20 percent in our most recent tracking. (page x)

Behavioral scientist and author Susan Mettes devotes Part 1 of her book to “Understanding an Epidemic” that helpfully reviews research on loneliness in the United States and around the world, works at defining loneliness, and examining how it spreads.

Part 2 looks at some of the myths about loneliness. For example some might assume that older adults are the loneliest; however, the research shows that young adults are the loneliest. Some might assume that people who spend a lot of time on social media are the loneliest, but the research indicates that many who spend a lot of time on social media also see a lot of people in person, which helps to protect them against loneliness.

Part 3 explores how we might address loneliness by building friendships and a sense of belonging, by offering hospitality and creating neighbourhoods, by setting reasonable expectations, and responding in other practical ways. Mettes is clear that she cannot offer a quick fix to the experience of loneliness, but these are helpful longer term responses for churches and leaders to work at together.

The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone and How Leaders Can Respond by Susan Mettes (Brazos Press, 2021) is an excellent resource that beautifully fulfills its promise:

This book is for helping Christian leaders understand the landscape of loneliness, how to encourage others, and how to lead a community that deals well with the threat and the fact of loneliness. Loneliness is something to be understood and, if possible, transformed into belonging. How do we transform loneliness? How do we help others transform their loneliness?

 

Many of the answers lie in long-term processes.

 

I cannot offer complete solutions. You will not be curing American loneliness after reading this book. Hopefully, however, you will know how to prevent it, recognize it, defang it, and help others do the same. (page 9)

Disclosure: Thank you to Brazos Press for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone and How Leaders Can Respond by Susan Mettes (Brazos Press, 2021). The choice to review and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.

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For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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